Hidden Pubs And Less-Visited Histories On The Thames

By Sponsor Last edited 14 months ago

Looks like this article is a bit old. Be aware that information may have changed since it was published.

Hidden Pubs And Less-Visited Histories On The Thames

Download the new MBNA Thames Clippers ticketing app and turn your phone into your ticket.

Visiting Cutty Sark? Select the special joint ticket to give you return travel on MBNA Thames Clippers and entry to Cutty Sark for a perfect nautical day out. There's also a joint ticket available for travel to and from a trip on Emirates Air Line.

Find out more about the fastest and most frequent fleet on the river at thamesclippers.com and follow them on Twitter @ThamesClippers.

All images copyright Peter Berthoud.

Woolwich Pier: Tons of history here. Home to the Royal Arsenal from the late 17th Century, this vast area is full of former factories that once produced guns, ammunition and explosives for the British Army. Firepower, the museum of the Royal Artillery is a great place to learn about the area’s history and so is Greenwich Heritage Centre, both are open Tuesday to Saturday. There is wonderful industrial architecture right near the pier, including one 18th century foundry that has been converted into a rather decent pub. The Dial Arch serves brunch from 10am and we think it’s an ideal place to set yourself up for the day.
Woolwich Pier: Tons of history here. Home to the Royal Arsenal from the late 17th Century, this vast area is full of former factories that once produced guns, ammunition and explosives for the British Army. Firepower, the museum of the Royal Artillery is a great place to learn about the area’s history and so is Greenwich Heritage Centre, both are open Tuesday to Saturday. There is wonderful industrial architecture right near the pier, including one 18th century foundry that has been converted into a rather decent pub. The Dial Arch serves brunch from 10am and we think it’s an ideal place to set yourself up for the day.
North Greenwich Pier: Not much of any great age around The O2. A Victorian gas holder is all that remains of what was once the largest gas works in Europe, interesting if you are into the history of gas. But there is a row of cottages at Ceylon Place, (now River Way) that date to 1801 and at one end of these is probably the oldest pub on the peninsular, The Pilot. The cottages were featured in the video for Blur’s Parklife and that gas holder got a look-in too. So a very good spot to indulge this particular earworm over a pint.
North Greenwich Pier: Not much of any great age around The O2. A Victorian gas holder is all that remains of what was once the largest gas works in Europe, interesting if you are into the history of gas. But there is a row of cottages at Ceylon Place, (now River Way) that date to 1801 and at one end of these is probably the oldest pub on the peninsular, The Pilot. The cottages were featured in the video for Blur’s Parklife and that gas holder got a look-in too. So a very good spot to indulge this particular earworm over a pint.
Greenwich Pier: There is a bewilderingly rich day’s worth of history within walking distance of the pier. If you haven’t been before, check out the visitor centre for all your options. On our to-do list for ages was the Fan Museum (closed Mondays) and we always enjoy a visit to the world’s largest collection of Merchant Navy figureheads at Cutty Sark. Always compelling, sometimes mildly disturbing and humorous they show there’s a whole lot more to figureheads than mere ligneous cleavage. For pubs you are spoiled for choice. We like The Old Brewery (Meantime) right by the visitor centre but a little further away we think a visit to the Plume of Feathers is a must. Established in 1691, it’s the oldest pub in Greenwich and tucked away from the tourists it feels like a proper Kentish country pub.
Greenwich Pier: There is a bewilderingly rich day’s worth of history within walking distance of the pier. If you haven’t been before, check out the visitor centre for all your options. On our to-do list for ages was the Fan Museum (closed Mondays) and we always enjoy a visit to the world’s largest collection of Merchant Navy figureheads at Cutty Sark. Always compelling, sometimes mildly disturbing and humorous they show there’s a whole lot more to figureheads than mere ligneous cleavage. For pubs you are spoiled for choice. We like The Old Brewery (Meantime) right by the visitor centre but a little further away we think a visit to the Plume of Feathers is a must. Established in 1691, it’s the oldest pub in Greenwich and tucked away from the tourists it feels like a proper Kentish country pub.
Masthouse Terrace Pier: There are a few decent pubs here. The Ship is immaculate and worth a visit but if you are in the mood for a genuine local’s boozer we think you’ll relish a pint in the very friendly Lord Nelson. Nearby you can see the remains of the slipway where Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Britain was launched in 1858. Built in a local yard she was regarded as a marvel, at that time the largest ship ever built. There are lots of other traces of nautical industrial history in the area.
Masthouse Terrace Pier: There are a few decent pubs here. The Ship is immaculate and worth a visit but if you are in the mood for a genuine local’s boozer we think you’ll relish a pint in the very friendly Lord Nelson. Nearby you can see the remains of the slipway where Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Britain was launched in 1858. Built in a local yard she was regarded as a marvel, at that time the largest ship ever built. There are lots of other traces of nautical industrial history in the area.
Greenland Dock Pier: London’s dockland heritage is easy to appreciate here. The name of the nearby Ship & Whale recalls the area’s former whaling trade. Mercifully blubber-free nowadays it is a good spot for food and drink. If you prefer to enjoy a drink on the water may we suggest The Wibbley Wobbley a rather jolly little pub onboard a boat.
Greenland Dock Pier: London’s dockland heritage is easy to appreciate here. The name of the nearby Ship & Whale recalls the area’s former whaling trade. Mercifully blubber-free nowadays it is a good spot for food and drink. If you prefer to enjoy a drink on the water may we suggest The Wibbley Wobbley a rather jolly little pub onboard a boat.
Canary Wharf Pier: We think the short walk to The Grapes is well worth the effort. You probably won’t see anyone like this bloke fixing his dinghy back in 1924 but not much else seems to have changed. A characterful and historic pub with thespian connections and an Anthony Gormley perched outside in the river. In the opposite direction, for a culture fix, the Museum Of London Docklands tells the story of London and the river for free and next door is Rum & Sugar for a shot of something warming from a choice of over 150 rums housed within this Grade I listed warehouse.
Canary Wharf Pier: We think the short walk to The Grapes is well worth the effort. You probably won’t see anyone like this bloke fixing his dinghy back in 1924 but not much else seems to have changed. A characterful and historic pub with thespian connections and an Anthony Gormley perched outside in the river. In the opposite direction, for a culture fix, the Museum Of London Docklands tells the story of London and the river for free and next door is Rum & Sugar for a shot of something warming from a choice of over 150 rums housed within this Grade I listed warehouse.
Tower Millennium Pier:  A bit like Greenwich, another UNESCO World Heritage Site with so much to explore right by the pier. Aside from the obvious, Tower of London, Tower Bridge etc. we very much like All Hallows by the Tower. Never too busy, it is the oldest Church in the City of London founded 675 and it houses an excellent little museum with an intact section of Roman pavement on display. For pubs we like the unprepossesing The Draft House on Seething Lane. It’s not open on Sundays but on every other day of the week they offer a fantastic selection of beers in a relaxed atmosphere. An alternative that is open on Sundays is the wonderfully named Victorian Hung Drawn and Quartered (soon to re-open after a refurb). But our favourite pub of all on this trail is The Angel at Bermondsey. It is a little further away from a pier than any of the other pubs we have mentioned. You need to cross Tower Bridge and walk east along the Thames path, a little over a mile. It is a Samuel Smith’s pub with a balcony overhanging the Thames which floods at high tide. We think the view from the balcony back towards Tower Bridge is one the best in London.
Tower Millennium Pier: A bit like Greenwich, another UNESCO World Heritage Site with so much to explore right by the pier. Aside from the obvious, Tower of London, Tower Bridge etc. we very much like All Hallows by the Tower. Never too busy, it is the oldest Church in the City of London founded 675 and it houses an excellent little museum with an intact section of Roman pavement on display. For pubs we like the unprepossesing The Draft House on Seething Lane. It’s not open on Sundays but on every other day of the week they offer a fantastic selection of beers in a relaxed atmosphere. An alternative that is open on Sundays is the wonderfully named Victorian Hung Drawn and Quartered (soon to re-open after a refurb). But our favourite pub of all on this trail is The Angel at Bermondsey. It is a little further away from a pier than any of the other pubs we have mentioned. You need to cross Tower Bridge and walk east along the Thames path, a little over a mile. It is a Samuel Smith’s pub with a balcony overhanging the Thames which floods at high tide. We think the view from the balcony back towards Tower Bridge is one the best in London.
London Bridge Pier: A chance for you to help rewrite history and have a pint here. It is often stated that there is only one public statue of Henry VIII in London at St Bart’s Hospital in Smithfield. Stand beneath it and soon enough you’ll hear a tour guide regaling their group with this “fact”. But venture down Borough High Street to the Old King’s Head and you will find another 3D depiction, a bust of “Old Copper Nose” himself stands proudly above the door and has been there since 1871. Take a photo of him on your phone, return to St Bart’s and chip in next time you hear a guide mention the only Henry VIII statue in London! “ I think you’ll find …” you can proudly boast. They will surely thank you for pointing out their error. But before you go there, do have a pint or two in this fabulous pub, not as glamorous as the better known George Inn just down the road but it’s far friendlier and far less busy.
London Bridge Pier: A chance for you to help rewrite history and have a pint here. It is often stated that there is only one public statue of Henry VIII in London at St Bart’s Hospital in Smithfield. Stand beneath it and soon enough you’ll hear a tour guide regaling their group with this “fact”. But venture down Borough High Street to the Old King’s Head and you will find another 3D depiction, a bust of “Old Copper Nose” himself stands proudly above the door and has been there since 1871. Take a photo of him on your phone, return to St Bart’s and chip in next time you hear a guide mention the only Henry VIII statue in London! “ I think you’ll find …” you can proudly boast. They will surely thank you for pointing out their error. But before you go there, do have a pint or two in this fabulous pub, not as glamorous as the better known George Inn just down the road but it’s far friendlier and far less busy.
Bankside Pier: OK, it’s hardly a hidden gem and we are very dubious of the veracity of the prominent “Built 1615” signs  but nevertheless we still have a soft spot for The Anchor. Cosy in winter, fabulous views from the river terrace on a sunny day. If you are visiting on the first Sunday of the month do try and pop into the nearby Kirkaldy Testing Museum. A magnificent working workshop of a museum where materials have been tested to destruction for the benefit of all since 1874. No virtual reality, no flashy interpretation panels just real original machines (including a massive brute of Victorian engineering) that pull, or push, or otherwise smash things to pieces.
Bankside Pier: OK, it’s hardly a hidden gem and we are very dubious of the veracity of the prominent “Built 1615” signs but nevertheless we still have a soft spot for The Anchor. Cosy in winter, fabulous views from the river terrace on a sunny day. If you are visiting on the first Sunday of the month do try and pop into the nearby Kirkaldy Testing Museum. A magnificent working workshop of a museum where materials have been tested to destruction for the benefit of all since 1874. No virtual reality, no flashy interpretation panels just real original machines (including a massive brute of Victorian engineering) that pull, or push, or otherwise smash things to pieces.
Embankment Pier: An embarrassment of riches to choose from here both boozy and cultural. We think one place that is often dismissed as a tourist trap deserves closer inspection. The Sherlock Holmes Pub is besieged by tourists taking photos outside pretty much all day long everyday. Some venture inside for a pint but not so many make it upstairs to the restaurant area. Here is housed a loving “recreation” of Holmes' study. It dates back to the Festival of Britain in 1951. Conan Doyle’s son was involved as was the Sherlock Holmes Society of Great Britain. Every tiny detail in the room is something that was mentioned in the original stories or novels. When it was relocated here from Baker Street in the mid 1950s the brewery even issued this 54 page catalogue detailing every item.  It is the oldest exhibition devoted to a fictional character anywhere on earth and we find its attention to detail impressive and strangely moving.
Embankment Pier: An embarrassment of riches to choose from here both boozy and cultural. We think one place that is often dismissed as a tourist trap deserves closer inspection. The Sherlock Holmes Pub is besieged by tourists taking photos outside pretty much all day long everyday. Some venture inside for a pint but not so many make it upstairs to the restaurant area. Here is housed a loving “recreation” of Holmes' study. It dates back to the Festival of Britain in 1951. Conan Doyle’s son was involved as was the Sherlock Holmes Society of Great Britain. Every tiny detail in the room is something that was mentioned in the original stories or novels. When it was relocated here from Baker Street in the mid 1950s the brewery even issued this 54 page catalogue detailing every item. It is the oldest exhibition devoted to a fictional character anywhere on earth and we find its attention to detail impressive and strangely moving.
London Eye Pier: Three excellent museums on the doorstep here, The Florence Nightingale Museum, The Imperial War Museum and The Garden Museum. If you are gasping for a pint you could try The County Hall Arms but we prefer the nearby Crown & Cushion. The Crown is full of Irish ephemera, locals and good cheer. We’ve never failed to enjoy a visit. Almost next door you can also see the former offices and First Class departures entrance of the London Necropolis Railway. From here a funereal railway once took the late dear departed and their mourners to Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey. It opened in 1854 and only closed for good in 1941.
London Eye Pier: Three excellent museums on the doorstep here, The Florence Nightingale Museum, The Imperial War Museum and The Garden Museum. If you are gasping for a pint you could try The County Hall Arms but we prefer the nearby Crown & Cushion. The Crown is full of Irish ephemera, locals and good cheer. We’ve never failed to enjoy a visit. Almost next door you can also see the former offices and First Class departures entrance of the London Necropolis Railway. From here a funereal railway once took the late dear departed and their mourners to Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey. It opened in 1854 and only closed for good in 1941.

Last Updated 13 October 2016

Paul

What about the Mitre in Hatton Garden, Holborn, London?

jamie

The white swan in Twickenham?

Tim Lewis

Re the London Eye Pier the County Hall Arms has closed (Is now a Pret) and the Garden Museum is shut for refurbishment until Early 2017

Nigel Legg

Good (I might try and get to some of these when I am next in London), apart from the bit in the caption to the Lord Nelson where you claim the SS Great Britain was built in London. The SS Great Britain was built in the same dry dock she is berthed in now, in the Floating Harbour in Bristol.

WharfRatJustin

The Angel and the Mayflower, along the river in Bermondsey. The remains of King Edward III's manor house directly across from the Angel make it a cool detour. Not really near a Clipper dock, but maybe 20m walk from Tower Bridge.